NEW YORK — The Fox Network’s coverage of Sunday afternoon NASCAR races keeps defying the odds, shooting up in the Nielsen ratings week after week while just about every other sport does a nose dive.
The Las Vegas 500, which aired Sunday from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. PST, delivered a 6.5 household rating, which was 63% higher than that of a year ago.
Even more impressive, the Las Vegas 500, taking obvious advantage of heavy promotion on Fox’s male-oriented primetime schedule, showed increases year to year of 104% in men 18-34, 92% in men 18-49 and 85% in men 25-54.
“The Fox Network reaches large numbers of young men, and promo spots for NASCAR will get traction with that demographic,” said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and head of his own consultancy.
Ed Goren, president of Fox Sports, also pointed to the network’s overhaul of the way the races are covered, led by the hiring of everyone from rookie commentators to a new production staff to graphics people with fresh ideas.
Whatever Fox is doing, the NASCAR programs are drawing masses of additional viewers. The four-week Sunday afternoon average shows Fox with a 7.8 rating. That represents 39% more households than the 5.6 rating for the comparable period in 2000, when the races were split between ABC and CBS.
Like last week, the male demos for the four weeks are eye-popping: Up 72% in 18-34; 61%, 18-49; and 56%, 25-54.
While promos during Fox’s primetime are providing booster shots to the NASCAR Nielsens, Goren is convinced that race coverage may be just as beneficial to entertainment shows. He cites the surprisingly powerhouse performance of “The Lone Gunmen” on Sunday, which won its time period in the key demos and finished second in total viewers.
“We hyped ‘Lone Gunmen’ at every commercial break in the Las Vegas 500,” Goren said.